Seamless Wayfinding by Individuals with Functional Disability in Indoor and Outdoor Spaces: An Investigation into Lived Experiences, Data Needs, and Technology Requirements

Martin Swobodzinski, Portland State University



Human wayfinding and navigation allow human beings to fully participate in the environment and are essential elements for leading healthy, economically sustainable, and full lives. People with disabilities, including individuals with blindness, deafblindness, visual impairment, and low vision, including those who use wheelchairs, constitute a sizable, growing minority of the general population yet continue to face significant barriers to community inclusion. It has been 29 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is one of the most significant policies for promoting accessibility for people with disabilities in public spaces. It may be argued that while the ADA provides a framework for supporting minimum standards for access, it does not offer guidance for maximizing indoor to outdoor navigation or wayfinding for pedestrians. Although there have been significant advancements in the proliferation of wayfinding technologies, producers have not widely considered the unique access needs of individuals with visual impairments and deafblindness. In an initial analysis of themes from the literature and focus group research, Swobodzinski and Parker found that not only are their few accessible wayfinding options for people who are visually impaired and deafblind, technologies are not well-integrated and virtually none offer solutions for the seamless transition between indoor to outdoor spaces.

Our collaborative project will employ a mixed-method design to develop a saliency feature inventory for supporting effective wayfinding design for individuals with visual impairments, blindness, and deafblindness in urban environments. Drawing from the academic literature, the technical expertise of the American Printing House for the Blind, and engaging individuals with visual impairments ages 14 and older in focus groups, interviews, and structured travel observations, we will distill elements of personal and environmental affordances that support effective wayfinding experiences. The elements of environmental saliency will be discovered using both qualitative and quantitative methods, including survey instruments, interviews, participant observations, structured data assessments, digital mapping, and spatial data collection and analysis. Using Portland State University (PSU) as our pilot study site, we will evaluate the validity and efficacy of the saliency feature inventory and wayfinding technology selection with constituents and expert advisors, sharing outcomes and insights iteratively with interdisciplinary networks. This project promises to drive forward the development of standards and innovation in mobile wayfinding as it relates to the integration of indoor and outdoor wayfinding and routing of visually-impaired, blind, and deafblind pedestrian travelers. Further it provides planners, designers, educators, researchers, practitioners and community members a working inclusive model to evaluate and scale on campus and communities.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
June 30,2022
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Round 3
UTC Funding:

Downloadable Products

Other Products

  • Technology-mediated pedestrian wayfinding under consideration of visual impairment and dual sensory loss (PRESENTATION)
  • Parker, A. T., Swobodzinski, M., Wright, J. D., Hansen, K., Morton, B., and Schaller, E. (2021). Wayfinding tools for people with visual impairments in real-world settings: A literature review of recent studies. Frontiers in Education – Educational Psychology, 6:723816. DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2021.723816 (PUBLICATION)
  • Swobodzinski, M., Parker, A. T., Wright, J. D., Hansen, K., and Morton, B. (2021). Seamless wayfinding by a deafblind adult on an urban college campus: A case study on wayfinding performance, information preferences, and technology requirements. Frontiers in Education – Educational Psychology, 6:723098. DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2021.723098 (PUBLICATION)
  • Mediating seamless navigation by individuals with functional disability through mobile technology (PRESENTATION)
  • Parker, A. T., Swobodzinski, M., Brown-Ogilvie, T., and Beresheim-Kools, J. (in press). The use of wayfinding apps by deafblind travelers in an urban environment: Insights from focus groups; Frontiers in Education – Educational Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2020.572641 (PUBLICATION)
  • A Comprehensive Examination of Electronic Wayfinding Technology for Visually Impaired Travelers in an Urban Environment (PRESENTATION)
  • A Comprehensive Examination of Electronic Wayfinding Technology for Visually Impaired Travelers in an Urban Environment (PRESENTATION)
  • Accessibility and Smart Cities Roundtable Session (PRESENTATION)